Doctor Who #630: The Caves of Androzani Part 1

"I should never have followed those tracks. Curiosity's always been my downfall."
TECHNICAL SPECS: This story is available on DVD, both in standard and Special Edition formats. First aired Mar.8 1984.

IN THIS ONE... The TARDIS lands on Androzani Minor, a planetoid in the middle of a war for control of its spectrox production.

REVIEW: The Caves of Androzani marks the official debut of maverick director Graeme Harper, the only director to work on both Classic and New Who, and you can see why. Though working within the limits of his day, there's no question that we're presented an auteur here. He slick, he's modern, and at times, he's even format-breaking. A hand-held camera makes us follow the rebels and Sharaz Jek. The action scenes are shaky-cam and the attendant insert shots on even shakier-cam. Characters are shot through reflections, revealed through a change in lens focus. The inevitably weak monster is kept in smoke, darkness and close-ups (compare to the Myrka at the start of the season). If things are frenetic on Androzani Minor, they are posed, artificial and stylish up on Androzani Major. That scene in the elevator, though interestingly lit, wouldn't look amiss on TV today, but it's completely unlike anything Doctor Who had produced in the last 20 years. Most shockingly, Morgus turns to the camera twice for a Shakespearean aside! And it's EXCITING! Harper also scores big technically, with an incredible matte painting incorporated into a quarry, and a wonderfully-done 3D communications system which sees Morgus walk AROUND the projection.

By comparison, Bob Holmes' script is pretty standard stuff. Guerrillas trying to stop mining operations bring nothing new to Doctor Who, and one even involved androids (well, robots) in Robots of Death. And Holmes has a Greel figure (that is to say, a Phantom of the Opera) in Sharaz Jek, one with a really great mask though. Still, it's Bob Holmes, so the dialog is a little sparklier than usual. Peri admonishes the Doctor on his curiosity, which not only gets him into trouble this episode, but will lead to worse things before we're through. The idea that Morgus has every interest in keeping the conflict going to drive up the price of the life-extending spectrox is well-observed. And there's even an elegant element of world-building in the way men are called Trau and the women Krau, and the Red Cloth tradition. The plot is the plot, but it's in the details that Holmes shines.

A little clumsier is the bit about the celery. It makes sense for newbie Peri to ask (and let me say that I'm happy to see her enjoying herself in the first act - a much better character there than when she's whimpering in fear), but the explanation obviously means it's going to play a role in the story. It's really now or never, isn't it? Of course, it looks like he'll never get to eat the celery judging from the cliffhanger, yet another execution scene for Doctor #5, and one that seems impossible to get out of. General Chellak shows some humanity when he admits the Doctor probably isn't guilty, though that's tempered by Holmes' cynicism regarding bureaucracy, and needs must. Fun to see young Robert Glenister (who I love in Hustle) as the intense Solateen.

VERSIONS: The DVD version fixes some of the juddery movement on the planet scenes at the very beginning, where the horizon line shook oddly on the transmitted version.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Groundbreaking directorial flair even if the plot isn't particularly special (yet).


Toby'c said...

My first Peter Davison story, about five years ago, and at the time it didn't leave a huge impression on me - it may have had something to do with me watching The Daleks, The Talons of Weng-Chiang and Remembrance of the Daleks in the same week. But it's grown on me a lot since then, I think becoming my most rewatched classic story overall, and definitely a top-fiver.


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